We primarily think of coffee as a beverage. Hot, cold, or mixed with pumpkin spice, many of us enjoy a cup or two (or four) every day. And why not? It gives us a caffeine boost and actually is the largest source of antioxidants in the average American diet. Additionally, coffee can be part of a healthy skin care regimen.
Used in masks and as a scrub, coffee can bring a glow to your complexion, lighten dark spots, de-puff your eyes, tighten your skin, reduce cellulite, relieve the itch and redness of eczema, and even whiten your skin. It is almost a miracle!
How I Know About Coffee and Skin Care
My wife likes to joke that when we moved to our coffee farm in Hawaii, half of what we brought with us from the mainland were skin care products. If you are a “lotions and potions” girl, she is your queen. When she realized that all of our water was running into the ground and then into the ocean, she became concerned. With a little research, “I don’t want to hurt the fish” quickly became “Hey, what is this doing to me?” Deciding that from now on she would only use natural products, she found out how much they cost. In words that would change our lives, she said, “I’ll just make them myself!”
Because of my chemistry coursework in college, I was able to help develop her recipes. Finding the plants and oils that gave the results she wanted was hard but rewarding work. Of course, since we were on a coffee farm, it only made sense to use coffee in many of our recipes. The more I researched, the more I found how versatile and powerful coffee was for our skin.
FYI: I am going to reference products that we make in this article. Luana Naturals products are hand made on the Big Island of Hawaii. We use farm-fresh ingredients and Hawaiian oils and botanicals so that everything we create nourishes your skin.
The Science Behind Coffee and Your Skin
There is solid science behind the claims that coffee is great for your skin. I recognize that not everyone is interested in the nuts and bolts, so if you want, you can just skip down to the specific methods and recipes. I won’t be offended. But for those of you who want to know “Why?” read on.
Nutrition for Your Skin
In biology class, one of the great trick questions was “What is the largest organ in the human body?” It’s not the brain (or anything else, you bad boy or girl). Surprisingly, it is the skin. And while not part of the digestive system, it is a digestive organ! What you put on your skin will go into your body. Recent research has found that the chemicals in commercial sunscreens make their way into the bloodstream in sufficient concentrations to warrant further study. That’s why it is important to use products on your skin that your body will recognize as food. Like coffee.
Antioxidants in Coffee
The wear and tear of “just living” introduces free radicals into the various metabolic systems of our body. Antioxidants’ primary functions are to neutralize the effects of these free radicals. Generally, we get our antioxidants by ingesting them in our food and beverages. But, as we have learned, absorption through the skin is another way to enter our body. One of the largest benefits of using coffee on your skin is its antioxidant content.
Scientists have identified over 1000 antioxidants in green coffee and hundreds more once it has been roasted. Antioxidants fight against many forms of inflammation which can be an underlying cause to such issues as cardiovascular disease and cancer. These same effects can benefit your skin.
Following are the key antioxidants found in coffee and how they can help your skin.
- Flavonoids, which are particularly powerful antioxidants, are often considered indispensable in many cosmetic applications. They are also anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and can modulate key cellular enzyme function.
- Chlorogenic acid can reduce inflammation and redness caused by exposure to the sun.
- Chlorogenic acid can also tighten the skin and reduce hyperpigmentation.
- Caffeic acid may boost collagen levels and reduce the premature aging of cells.
- Caffeic acid also has antimicrobial properties and offers sun protection.
If you want to learn more about the antioxidants in coffee, check out this post by Coffee Dorks.
Coffee for Exfoliation
There are a few great things about using coffee as a body scrub. For one, there are all the antioxidants I wrote about in the Science section of this article. These are all terrific for fighting the effects of aging and hyperpigmentation. More importantly for this application though, is that coffee is a softer and rounder material than what you might find in other scrubs. When you are using an apricot scrub, for instance, the granules are hard and sharp. The edges of the grains slice and cut your skin rather than gently abrading it in the way that coffee grinds do. This allows the sloughing off of dead skin cells and smoothes the underlying new skin.
Coffee to Minimize Cellulite
Using a coffee scrub on your legs can definitely minimize cellulite. The caffeine in coffee effectively dehydrates the fat cells that make up cellulite. This shrinks their overall size. The caffeine also dilates the blood vessels beneath the skin, improving overall blood flow. Additionally, the massaging action of using the scrub may also help. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery has determined that massaging the affected area can assist lymphatic drainage and stretch skin tissue. Combined with the skin tightening effects of coffee, while it might not actually remove cellulite, it will improve cellulite appearance. And that’s what really counts, isn’t it?
Coffee is Better for the Environment
Coffee is also a food. That means that any that ends up in the environment from our body scrubs can break down into something safe. Microplastic beads in some scrubs will find their way through to wildlife and the food chain. Another great thing about making your own coffee scrub is that you can enjoy a cup of coffee and use your spent grounds to pamper your skin. That’s right, this is not going to cost you any of your expensive coffee.
Simple Coffee Scrub Recipe
You can experience the benefits of a coffee scrub for your skin by using this very simple recipe.
Mix your spent coffee grounds with grapeseed oil or any non-comedogenic oil. Non-comedogenic means that the oil will not clog your pores. Olive oil or most seed oils will do an effective job. I am not a big fan of coconut oil as it is on the higher end of the scale. That said, for your body or if your skin is very dry, you should be okay. Add an equal amount of coarse sugar and mix well. Rub the scrub on your skin in small circles to keep an even skin tone. Continue the circles as you rinse with cool to warm water. This will round off the sugar crystals, giving a final polish to your skin. Be careful: scrubs and oils can make your tub slippery!
For an exceptional scrub with some additional, terrific, skin-supporting ingredients (and already made for you), try my wife’s Luana Naturals’ Kona Mocha Body Scrub. Use the code PROCAFFEINATION FOR 20% off your entire order.
Skin Tightening with Coffee
The benefits of coffee on your face cannot be overstated. Earlier I mentioned how caffeine could dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow. Well, get this: closer to the surface, caffeine restricts blood flow and reduces swelling! This makes topical coffee use excellent as an anti-inflammation tool. The anti-inflammatory effects may be attributed to chlorogenic acid (CGA) and melanoidins in coffee. CGA has also been shown to be effective at reducing sun and aging caused hyperpigmentation.
That being said, this makes a coffee-infused eye cream or a good coffee mask an excellent way to reduce eye puffiness, sun and age spots, and the dark circles under your eyes.
Simple Coffee Mask Recipe
Much like the recipe for the scrub, you want to use a noncomedogenic oil (meaning it won’t clog your pores). Grapeseed or argan oil are both pretty good for this application. First, dry your spent coffee grounds. A low oven is good for this. When dry, grind them to a powder, the finer, the better. Mix in the oil and gently apply to your face and let sit for at least 5 minutes. You can leave it on for 20 minutes to get a therapeutic dose. Remember: This is not a rub and scrub! Be careful as you rinse off, especially the sensitive skin around your eyes. In addition to the evening of your skin tone, the benefits of this coffee mask are that you will have tighter skin, be mildly exfoliated, and be deeply refreshed.
Kalima means “cream” in Hawaiian and Luana Naturals designed this premium eye cream specifically for the thin skin around your eyes and eyelids. Use the code PROCAFFEINATION FOR 20% off your entire order.
Coffee for Anti-aging
Much of what we think of as “aging” in our skin is the accumulation of damage caused by free radicals. As we spoke about in the science section, fighting that damage is precisely what antioxidants do. We experience the effects of the damage as wrinkles, sun spots, and loss of elasticity. The antioxidants in coffee combat these effects by boosting collagen, reducing hyperpigmentation, and increasing elastin production. We win all the way around.
Calming Your Skin with Coffee
Often, our first thoughts about coffee are the stimulating effects of caffeine. Paradoxically, it can also be effective at calming our skin. This is due to the anti-inflammatory effects of chloregenic acid and some of the flavonoids present in coffee. Try some of the recipes on this page and see how coffee can, in fact, reduce redness and inflammation.
Sun Protection from Coffee
This study showed how coffee minimized both the effects of photoaging and hyperpigmentation. If you suffer from rosacea, a chronic inflammatory skin disease, coffee has been shown to reduce redness because it is a vasoconstrictor. That reduces the amount of blood flowing to your skin’s surface.
Many of us have put aloe on our sunburns. Because of the anti-inflammatory effects of coffee that I outlined above, cool, brewed coffee on a paper towel is also effective for after sunburn care.
There is also evidence that topical coffee application may fight some skin cancers. You can read more about it in the Coffee for Cancer Fighting below.
Skin Whitening with Coffee
This might seem counter-intuitive. After all, coffee is brown – kind of the opposite of what you are looking for. There are quite a few videos online that purport to use coffee as a skin whitening agent. Upon review, I do not think they hold up to scrutiny. Coffee is most effective when used in exfoliation. This removes the dead cells at the skin’s surface, exposing fresh skin below. This is an excellent target for a natural whitening product that I love. Dried milk.
Milk is a natural bleaching agent. Perhaps you have heard the legend of Cleopatra and her milk baths? After exfoliating with a coffee scrub, in a small bowl, make a paste using Waiū Sweet Milk Facial and Holoi Herbal Face Wash, both available from Luana Naturals. Apply the paste to your skin like a mask. Let it sit for up to 20 minutes and rinse with cool water. The lactic acid in the milk will further brighten and mildly bleach your skin. Multiple treatments will gradually lighten your skin tone. Stay out of the sun so you don’t increase your skin’s melanin production.
Coffee for Acne Treatment
While I would like to give you a definitive answer, the truth is that it is not clearcut. Here’s why: Drinking coffee can elevate your stress hormones, such as cortisol. While stress doesn’t cause acne, it can exacerbate an existing breakout. But what about topically?
While we see acne on the skin’s surface, that is not where it starts. Dirt and oil deep inside the pores create blockages. This and the growth of acne-causing bacteria and inflammation causes pimples. This is why “just wash your face” doesn’t really work. Coffee is both anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, so if it is used properly, it will help fight acne.
Some tips: Don’t use a coffee scrub (or anything else) to exfoliate if you are in the middle of a breakout. Use the mask we discussed in the Tightening section, being careful to not irritate your skin when applying or rinsing off. Let it remain in contact with your skin for at least 20 minutes, giving time for the anti-bacterial benefits to kick in. Then wash your face with a mild soap. Coffee has oils in it and if you leave them on your skin they could further block your pores. Also, sad as it is, evidence suggests that you should eliminate drinking coffee from your diet, especially during breakouts.
Coffee for Eczema Relief
Eczema is a tricky affliction. Kind of an allergy and kind of an autoimmune disease. It generally manifests itself in dry, itchy patches of red bumps and it is difficult to manage and control. Much like acne, in some people drinking coffee can be a trigger for an eczema outbreak. If you are one of these people, you have my pity. But perhaps there is a light for you: using coffee topically.
It’s those antioxidants again. Mix up your spent coffee grounds and raw sugar with a good oil, maybe throw in some ground turmeric and cinnamon, and you will be well on your way to knocking back the itch and redness. Rinse with cool water and coat the affected area with more oil to trap in the moisture. Of course, your results may vary and you might benefit from discussing it with your doctor.
If you want a ready-made solution, try Luana Naturals Kona Mocha scrub for relief of the symptoms. Use the code PROCAFFEINATION FOR 20% off your entire order. But remember, I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice; I’m just some smart aleck who likes coffee, science, and the internet. See your healthcare professional.
Coffee for Cancer Fighting
Look, there has not been a huge amount of research in this area and, as I mentioned, I am not a doctor of any sort. If you have or suspect you have a health issue, see a health care professional. But that being said, the research that has been done is intriguing and I would like to make you aware of it.
The study that caught my eye some years ago – which I cannot now locate – used ultraviolet light to give rats skin cancer. The researchers then treated the rats topically with brewed coffee. That’s all. The results were that in over 90% of the rats, tumor growth stopped. In over 60% the tumors actually SHRANK! That was good enough for me. I then replaced the water we were using in our sunscreen with 100% Kona coffee.
Ālai Lā is available online at LuanaNaturals.com. Use the code PROCAFFEINATION FOR 20% off your entire order.
Coffee is a rich source of a key compound called trigonelline. Trigonelline breaks down into vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide or nicotinamide during the roasting process. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, both oral and topical nicotinamide may be helpful in preventing nonmelanoma skin cancers and can possibly prevent other skin growths. It also reduces the suppression of the immune system caused by UV radiation. This information has induced the SCA to call for further research.
It is pretty clear that coffee can be important to the overall health of our skin. Drinking coffee is the largest source of antioxidants in the American diet. Those antioxidants fight the effects of aging and are particularly effective when used topically on the skin. It is a useful and environmentally safe exfoliant and also has anti-inflammatory characteristics. Scientific research has shown hints that it might even prove to be effective in the fight against some skin cancers. Hopefully, the research is continuing.
I write fairly often about the intersection of coffee and science.
Be part of Procaffeination Nation!
If you like coffee and fun, join us in our Procaffeination Facebook Group. To be among the first to find out when the book is ready (and probably get a discount, too) sign up for the email list. No spam… I promise.